“Avoid irritation more than exposure to the sun…In the tropics one must before everything keep calm.’ . . .”
― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
It was years ago, right around the run of the century, and the job was simple. There was a building up a road on a mountainside in Honduras. We had to ride up, drop off some gear, do a sound check and then meet everyone else down the mountain. There would be a fine restaurant and an extravagant meal and peacocks. We’d meet everyone there for a late lunch/early dinner and then head back up the mountain.
The thing I need to stress is this – I had nothing to do with the scheduling of this particular endeavor. We made it up the mountain. I was in the front seat of the van looking at the world around us. Spectacular beauty marred by civilization and an inappropriate imposition of cruel humanity forcing itself where it didn’t belong.
The road up was, for the most part, a singular lane affair with a steep drop off on one side. By steep, I mean almost straight down. Many crosses dotted the side of the road where people had found this drop to be more than they could handle.
We wound our way up, slowly, very slowly. The old man behind the wheel talking to us about nothing in particular. He’d come down to Central America to save some souls decades ago and in the heat and sweat he’d lost his mind. No one had told him yet.
I was wishing someone had told us.
We got there and did our job as fast and efficiently as possible. There was food waiting at the bottom of the road, and for my part, I didn’t want to slide off the side on an empty stomach.
We got down to the restaurant, got out of the van, saw a peacock and never made it in to eat.
“You’ve gotta go back. We got the time wrong. Head to the road and get into the van that’s there. We’ll join you after dinner.”
Like I said, I didn’t plan this. So, a group of us headed to the road and got into a passenger van. This one was driven by a man who might have gone mad before he got to the jungle. We drove in silence for a while before he asked. “Where am I taking you?”
“Where am I taking you?”
“We don’t know. Someone drove us there before. We’ve only been in the country a day.”
“How do you not know where I’m supposed to drive you?”
“Because you are the one driving. Just take us back to the restaurant and we can ask where we’re supposed to go.”
“The one you just picked us up at.”
“I don’t know where that is. Someone drove me there and told me to drive the van back.”
“You live here, right? How do yo not know where you are?”
“You don’t know where you are.”
“We don’t live here. You do.”
“I don’t live here. I live a couple of miles away.”
Then I saw it. I don’t know how . I saw our turn in the jungle. “It’s here. Turn here.”
The madman turned. It was the right road. I knew it from the complete lack of anything to the right of the van. Just air and then a quick trip down. We were relaxed. The tension falling away. I made a joke.
“Alright, turn right here.”
The madman turned.
Lord knows how. I lept forward from the back shouting “no.” Whoever was in the front seat reached for the wheel.
The Madman turned back to the left. I probably laughed.
“You don’t say turn when it’s not time to turn.”
You don’t turn when there is no road, I thought. I didn’t say anything. For once, I was done talking.